- Where We Started: New Orleans, La.
- Where We Ended: New Orleans, La.
- Miles Driven: 0 (2,358 total)
- New States: None
- Total States: 8 (Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana)
THE DAY'S HIGHLIGHTS
Hey, when you happen to find yourself in New Orleans on St. Patrick's Day, you don't leave. So we decided on Monday that we'd put down for two nights here, and give our hard-working car its first day off as well.
Unfortunately, the day didn't start well. On trips like this, there's a natural wearing down that occurs over time, and eventually, fatigue wins out. We were tired, but in good spirits, when we left the hotel for lunch, especially since we were headed over to one of our favorite places, Central Grocery, for a pair of muffuletta sandwiches. If you haven't had a muffuletta before, you should try one. The combination of olive salad spread, salami, capicola, mortadella and provolone cheese is outstanding. We discovered these on a trip to New Orleans a ways back, and, when in town, always try and make a stop at Central Grocery, where the muffuletta was invented in 1906. Now, I have a general philosophy that if a food is only eaten in the place where it was invented -- haggis, I'm looking at you -- then it isn't a very good food. Muffulettas break that model. I'm assuming many of you have never had one. They deserve a better fate.
So, all was well when we arrived at Central Grocery, and we even found a surprisingly short line. We soon found out why: They're out of muffulettas for the day. Now, Central Grocery being out of muffulettas is like Claudia Schiffer being out of looks. So, now, our plan of getting two sandwiches to go and eating along the Mississippi is dead. And since we have the dogs, our options are greatly limited.
The next stop is a waterfront restaurant that allows you to tie up your dogs outside and eat. The woman who helped get us settled there could not have been nicer. Unfortunately, she was the last person employed by the restaurant who made any attempt to assist us. Everyone we tried to stop said someone else would be coming to help. After 20 minutes of waiting fruitlessly for that someone else, we decided to go somewhere else.
On top of the lunch-related frustration, the dogs were also out of sorts. For hounds, New Orleans is like an all-you-can-eat buffet. Every two feet, there's something on the sidewalk the dogs want to sniff and/or eat. By the time we've wandered the French Quarter for an hour, we joke that the beagles have consumed a fine New Orleans Street Stew -- a po' boy, a beignet, two dozen french fries, three crawfish, a gram of heroin and some vomit. So between our lunch issues, our canine issues and one increasingly crabby human -- that would be me -- we decided to return to the hotel to get a room service lunch. I then hit the big "Room Service" button on the phone, and am told that I need to call the front desk to order room service. Silly me.
By the time we ate, we were both tired and ready for a afternoon nap. There is likely not a better napper on earth than Joan. She's been known to take such long naps, that when she wakes up from a weekend nap asks what time it is, my response is "Thursday." So she crashed for four hours, and I slept for two. By the time we woke up, it was 7:30pm and we'd done almost nothing in New Orleans, and on St. Patrick's Day, no less.
Feeling a little lame, we headed out to take the dogs for a walk to try and salvage the day. And, thanks to typical New Orleans revelry, and one of those wonderful random encounters, we did.
First, we decided to get into the St. Patrick's Day spirit by heading down to Bourbon Street to give the beagles a taste of complete and utter debauchery. We quickly got into the spirit, and decided the dogs needed to get into it as well.
At my request -- and, yes, this was my request -- Joan bought the boys some beads. I also bought myself a large green beer. And then I posed with the dogs.
From there, it was off to Jackson Square and Decatur Street, where we watched the St. Patrick's Day parade for a while. By now, the dogs had gotten a bit more comfortable with the noise, the crowds, the drooling drunks petting them, etc. So we hung out for a while to get a taste of the parade.
One of the great things about New Orleans -- and we both love this city -- is how many different faces it has. One block past this wild parade, we were able to take a quiet walk along the Mississippi River, with a beautiful view of downtown.
Now, I should qualify "quiet walk" a bit. It was interrupted twice, once by a young man who, shall we say, was helping to refill the Mississippi after a long morning/day/night of drinking, and once by a pedestrian telling his children how the Mississippi River was so long, it was one of the three rivers that passed through Pittsburgh. Yes, but only if Pittsburgh is now where St. Louis is. We've been away a few weeks; maybe we missed the news.
We completed our river stroll, and had just started to head back to our hotel to seek dinner when we encountered a couple with their working dog, Larry, We stopped so the dogs could "chat" in that way that dogs "chat." So after the proper butt-sniffing commenced, we began talking to the couple, and found their story fascinating. Both Mark and Carolyn Gwathmey come from military backgrounds; he's been a Marine for 20 years and has served almost everywhere the Marines have been in that time, including Iraq, Somalia, the Persian Gulf, Rwanda and many other hot spots. Carolyn is a retired master sergeant in the Air Force. But you don't need me to tell you any more of the story; Mark was one of the soldiers profiled in New York Times story last November on how service dogs were helping veterans. An excerpt:
"Master Sgt. Mark Eugene Gwathmey, 38, comes from a family with a proud history of military service. He enlisted in the Marines at 19, served in the first gulf war and did two tours of duty in Iraq. While in Iraq, Sergeant Gwathmey was near several devastating explosions. A building wall collapsed over him, and in another incident, his foot was injured. He returned home in May 2005 to his wife, Carolyn, a retired master sergeant in the Air Force, and lives in Upper Marlboro, Md."
Again, read the rest here and don't miss the slideshow, which features photos of Master Sgt. Gwathmey and Larry. We sat with Mark and Carolyn (C.C. for short) for a while and listened to them talk how getting Larry had changed their lives. We traded contact information and, because they live in Upper Marlboro, Md. -- about 30 minutes from us -- we're hoping to see them again when we get home.
As I've said many times during our cross-country journeys, this is why we do these trips. Seeing new places is great, getting to spend more time together is wonderful. But it's these kinds of stories -- which exist by the dozens in every city and town in this country -- that make it so rewarding.
After leaving Mark and C.C., we returned to our quest for food, but we missed out on oysters and both Acme Oyster House and Felix's Restaurant & Oyster Bar, which had just closed. (And what's with restaurants 20 feet from Bourbon Street closing at 10pm, anyway? If there's any place in the universe that seems primed to take advantage of late-night munchies, it's these places). But it did give me another opportunity to check out the action on Bourbon Street.
So I returned to the hotel empty-handed as our bad luck with food continued. Finally, I found a 24-hour place about 10 blocks from the hotel that had gotten strong reviews, and we struck gold. But more on that later.
- Once again, a big thanks to beagle lover Andrew Sullivan, one of the Web's most prominent and consistently provocative bloggers, for his mention of Fred & Hank Mark America yesterday. And a huge thanks to reader Dan Cusimano, who apparently was the person who sent the link to Andrew in the first place. For those of you new to the blog, hope you enjoy.
- I don't know what it is, but when total strangers walk past us, we're amazed how often they will just randomly blurt out the word "beagle." I mean, I understand why people don't blurt out ""Cavalier King Charles Spaniel," it's too long. But this blurting out of "beagle" comes with no other words, and like a belch. Is the word "beagle" fun too fun to say, and people can't resist? This occurred about 100 times yesterday in New Orleans. Does this happen to anyone else?
- I'm going to post something in a few days that will expose the seamy underbelly of trips like these. Yes, it all sounds like fun and games when you read it from the outside, but it is actually hard to keep the FHMA tour healthy and happy. I get the easy part: I get to write, and make all the smart remarks about Joan's obsession with laundry, her toilet-paper issues, etc. But here, in one photo, you get to see what Joan has to deal with.
Two dogs -- one trying to go his own way -- plus a camera and a knapsack that's carrying treats, water and other canine accoutrements. Also, don't miss the small poop bag container strapped to her belt. And, heck, I'm not even in this picture, and I may be the biggest thorn in Joan's side. Bravo, Joan! (Photo by Jim)
- A few interesting places we didn't get a chance to see while in New Orleans:
- The Old Absinthe House on Bourbon, which has two wildly different distinctions. It's where Andrew Jackson and Jean Lafitte reportedly met to plan the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812, and it's also the bar interior that inspired the cover of Led Zeppelin's album, "In Through the Out Door."
- The Napoleon House Bar & Cafe, where part of the movie "JFK" -- specifically the scene when Jim Garrison (Kevin Costner) finds out about JFK's assassination -- was filmed. Another note about that film: I was one of the 15 people in the country not accused of killing Kennedy in that film.
- We also had to pass on the Confederate Civil War Museum on Camp Street, and a whole host of good restaurants recommended by readers of this blog. Truth is, New Orleans is a very hard city to have dogs, so we weren't able to do any really good sit-down dinners.
- Random iPod shuffle song of the day: We spent zero time in the car on Monday, but this feature -- and whatever random movie soundtrack song my damn iPod coughs up -- will return tomorrow.
- Lunch: W New Orleans - French Quarter, New Orleans, La.: Once we finally tracked down some friggin' food, it was pretty good. The W doesn't truly have room service; they just bring food up from the in-house restaurant, Bacco. I had some shrimp in spicy sauce with a salad; Joan was happy with her shrimp salad and lemon pie. Jim Nutrition Rating: 4 stars (out of 5). No fries. Restaurant Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5).
- Dinner: Verti Marte, New Orleans, La.: It took some research, but I finally found this 24-hour place on the other side of the French Quarter. It had gotten good reviews -- and, let's be honest, our options were limited -- so I walked down there and finally satisfied our quest for muffulettas, getting one for each of us. We also each had part of shrimp and oyster po' boy. Absolutely delicious. It's rare to find a 24-hour joint where the satisfaction level of the food isn't directly related to blood alcohol level. Highly recommended. Jim Nutrition Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5). Muffulettas aren't great for you, though you could do far worse. The po' boy features fried oysters and shrimp, but we didn't eat much of that after our Muffulettas. Restaurant Rating: 4 stars (out of 5).
- Weigh-In Excuse of the Day: We didn't get in the car at all today, so the scale continues to rest harmlessly in our trunk. But this is the last day I can have an excuse. Weigh in is tomorrow. By the way, you should read Mark Potts's Top 10 list of my weigh-in excuses.
- W New Orleans - French Quarter, New Orleans, La.: OK, we're taking this hotel down a star. It's a bit beat up, and the shower has a massive design flaw: You literally cannot turn the water on without being completely in the shower already. So you better get that hot-cold ratio down fast, because if not, you're going to have to leap of out the shower altogether.
- I will say this, though, the housekeeping person who has to clean up in our wake will earn his/her money. We did more damage to this hotel room than Keith Moon would have on his best day. There are towels everywhere, many covered in vomit, as Hank threw up again this morning. This means Hank is 2-for-2 in throwing up in expensive hotel rooms -- and has a perfect record of NOT throwing up in crappy ones. As you may know, Hank is a bit of a nervous nellie. When we first got him, he had a bed-wetting problem, which was resolved through medication and his growing more comfortable with us. Well, after a year and a half of being "cured," Hank decided to re-add peeing in his sleep to his repertoire. So while we ended up not being that all that happy with the hotel, it's unlikely we'd be invited back anyway. Rating: 3 stars (out of 5).
- Jiwire.com: This site helps you find wi-fi locations when you're on the road.
COMMENT OF THE DAY
- Today: Disaster tour of New Orleans, and then to Vicksburg.
- Tomorrow: The Elvis Tour, including Tupelo and Memphis.
- The Day After Tomorrow: Little Rock and other Arkansas destinations.
BONUS BEAGLE PHOTO